Counterface and Painted Devil (2004)

Painted Devil1 630-532Counterface, an interactive installation made in collaboration with Brian Karl, is the second distinct iteration of a two-fold video project investigating women’s different roles in contemporary Turkish society, with all the complexities, nuances, and contradictions that have developed there among the secular and non-secular, rural and urban, modern and traditional.  The first iteration of the project is a 52 min. linear video called Painted Devil.  Both versions of the project include portions of interviews with a variety of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds living in Istanbul, integrated with digitally altered scenes from everyday life.

Augmenting the more fragmented, elliptical strategy of the single channel version, the interactive version serves as a fuller reservoir or database allowing greater access to the original stories of the multiple interviewed subjects.

The history of Turkey since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the 20th century has been one that has incorporated–oftentimes uneasily–a series of willful transformations of the existing social order.  These transformations were initiated and enforced by government authorities in the pursuit of a perceived modernism based on the model of Western-style humanism and economic development.  Such ideals, promulgated from the top down, have clashed with customs and beliefs held by members of a diverse populace.  The differences between the modernizing factions of Turkish society and the continually resurfacing elements of more traditionally held beliefs, such as those represented by various Islamic practices, have produced numerous consequences for the lives of women in Turkey.

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Education and career possibilities, status and role in the familial as well as in the social realm, and freedom of choice for women in many details of their personal lives–from dress to conversation to reproductive issues and rights of movement–have been impacted in conflicting fashion.  What might have seemed conservative or oppressive in Islamic ideology (such as the wearing of a scarf) would sometimes surprisingly become a rallying point as part of political statements, in resistance to highly regulative secular ruling bodies.  On the other hand, the premises and results of these modern secular methods provided the very means for such historically unprecedented self-expression and opposition on the part of women in Turkey.

As in our earlier experimental video documentary projects, we attempt in Counterface and in Painted Devil to create a document incorporating resonant human signs that waver between indicating a fabricated reality and an “actual” and observable one. Out of fragmented and bracketed individual stories, a prism-like composite woman character is implied that no single category can contain.  We focus on representations through two sets of scenes: first, a range of shots of day-to-day activities in public settings, where the overt absence of women from the images is intended to mark their exclusion from many aspects of Turkish social life.

Digitally rendered visual effects expose and expand what the visible everyday might mask: for instance, by creating repetitive behaviors in only a portion of otherwise linear actions, or by zooming in on one element while the overall composition remains constrained to a single, steady angle, resulting in slowly sliding ground in the courtyard of a mosque or an outdoor market.  Ambient sound is also digitally manipulated to distill and heighten the ordinary, creating a space where multiple and overlapping perspectives are hinted at: those of the audience, of the filmmakers, and of the individuals in the scenes documented.

The second set of depictions incorporates selections from a set of 25 interviews with women of various classes and backgrounds. Speakers’ statements focus on women’s personal histories and the impact on their lives of changing gender positions and concepts in Turkey.  The recorded mesh of voices tilts back and forth between presenting a definitive possibility of linking–and deliberately marking a gap that separates--private (e.g., projected) and public (e.g., perceived) domains and points of view.  Our intention is to break the appearance of any integrated, unified community and, within it, any singular image or representation of women.  The complexities and contradictions of socially constructed identities for the various individuals portrayed will be exposed through these breaks.

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The Interactive Installation

The interactive installation rendering of the above theme consists of a gyroscope-like double-axis structure holding a large dark glass plane within a rotating frame.  A two-sided navigable movie is projected on the plane. The two primary sets of scenes mentioned above are separated across the two sides of the plane/movie, each accessed as a single string of images by rotating the structure of the installation up or down on its X axis.  Hints of the interviews are visible through cracks within the canvas of outdoor images, and thus provide portals to the unheard voices hiding in the reverse side of the installation.

Each of the two strings of shots is navigated by rotating the structure’s plane on its Y axis to the left or right.  When a navigated scene within the outdoors set of images is paused upon, a sequence, digitally altered to evoke a multiplicity of perspectives complicating and fracturing the immediate appearance of the every day, unfolds in depth.  The sequence can be disrupted, and the surface navigation of the set of images can be resumed at any point, with a new turning of the glass plane to the left or right.  When a navigated scene within the interviews sequence is paused upon, a segment of the interview unfolds.  Rotation of the frame to the sides during the interview allows navigation to another individual’s story.